In the first part of this series, we looked at the Prophetic call to individual responsibility, the Islamic roots of the concept, and how we can avoid being bystanders in a world where we each need to display such character.
In this part, we consider a number of examples where irresponsibility can take hold, and some strategies to help either build or strengthen one’s sense of being responsible.
Common causes of irresponsibility
Parents who do everything for their children decimate the sense of responsibility from their children!
When a child wants to pour the milk into his cereal bowl and mum says “No!”, she has preferred the cleanliness of her floor over the nurturing of duty within her child.
If, each and every time, a child tries to break free from the hand of his parent as they walk, only for the parent to snatch them back, they will eventually submit. Unfortunately, they will have learnt that they are not allowed to take care of themselves.
When children are punished for making mistakes after taking the initiative, they will give up on behaving responsibly, because they will have learnt that duty equates to punishment.
In many cases, parents play a huge role in emasculating their boys and weakening their daughters, as we relentlessly shield them from every small risk and failure, until they lose the fortitude of withstanding the inevitable, larger failures of adulthood.
Indeed, we build statues out of snow, and weep when they melt.
Fear of failure
This is the most common form of fear and is what causes you to procrastinate, to avoid, to play safe, and ultimately to sabotage yourself.
Such a fear eventually leads people to believe that success isn’t about doing something good, but rather about not doing something bad, with the eventual outcome of an unfulfilled life and afterlife.
However, if we change the stories we are telling ourselves about failure, then it’s possible to break free from this fear, for what is success but the sum total of many failures?
Furthermore, since failure is unavoidable, don’t try to avoid it!
Instead, fail better — which means to fail with purpose, fail when attempting the things that matter. Then, as quickly as you can, learn from it and get back up.
To avoid failure is to avoid one of the greatest teachers of success.
The apathetic person argues that “Someone else will do it”.
Yes, whilst it is true that someone else may, indeed, do it today, where does that leave him on the Day of Reckoning when no volunteers will be around to pick up his burden on his behalf?
So, do your best to free yourself from the shackles of apathy by shifting the mindset from,
“Someone else will do it…”
“Someone else will take the reward.”
“Someone else will spare me the burden today…”
“Someone else is sparing himself the burden tomorrow.”
The despondent one will ask,
“Who am I? What significance do my decisions hold in the grand scheme of things? Why bother trying?”
Much of the problem with this mentality is that it thinks of the world in terms of days and years, and so when it sees so many of these days and years are looking largely the same for Muslims, it gives up and relinquishes individual responsibility.
The antidote to this is in thinking of the world in terms of generations and centuries, and that you are part of a much larger story.
Realise that managing the outcomes of life is not your business. Your duty is to play a role towards forming those outcomes, whilst accepting that you may never see the fruits of those decisions and contributions today.
On the Day of Judgment, you will realise that you were never a minor actor in the grand film of life, as you stand before Allah to be questioned as though you were at the heart of that narrative!
Low-quality circle of friends
When confronted with complaints of irresponsible behaviour, I frequently advise individuals to re-evaluate their circle of friends, both those of real life and the digital realm.
More often than not, this introspection reveals the underlying cause of their indifference.
Consider someone who follows 2,000 people on social media, where that vast majority, at best, lack depth and any Islamic meaning. This is the content you’re inundated with, every time you scroll through your feed, and it inevitably shapes your mindset, identity, and motivation.
The company you keep — both online and off — plays a pivotal role in influencing your sense of purpose and responsibility.
Fostering individual responsibility
Given the above, it’s important to note that the sense of responsibility, like any other life value, can be strengthened if weak, and can be fortified if already strong.
Below are a few strategies.
The 5-second rule
This rule suggests that you have five seconds to act before your mind convinces you to do otherwise. Hesitation is the kiss of death. 
That one small hesitation triggers a mental system that’s designed to stop you, and it happens in less than five seconds.
This rule creates a process to combat the subconscious mind, and forces us to act on our ideas.
For example, if you struggle to get out of bed to pray, the process suggests that you count backwards from five to one and immediately act at the end of the count, before the mind creates the reason not to act.
Implement this rule across all your responsibilities, both secular and sacred.
Bravely confront your aversions
Mark Twain, an American author, said,
“Do something every day that you don’t want to do.
“This is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.” 
In other words, target those actions that lie outside of your comfort zone.
Deliberately stepping into this unfamiliar territory and confronting your duties will eventually build resilience towards them. Eventually, your boundaries of comfort are expanded, where what was highly uncomfortable yesterday becomes normal today and even second nature.
Try that with, for example, your hijab, praying in congregation, or mustering the courage to apologise when you’re in the wrong. Pinpoint those matters that you’ve been putting off.
We often echo this same sentiment in marital counselling sessions; running away from issues and hastily considering divorce as a quick fix is a misguided approach. That is because, if you leave your issues unconfronted, you’re simply choosing to transfer your problems onto the next marriage, and so on.
As a toddler, the Prophet ﷺ was sent by his parents — as was the custom of the Arabs — to live with the Bedouins of Banu Sa’d to master eloquent speech, develop a robust physical frame, as well as the skills of shepherding.
At around the age of four, the Prophet ﷺ was in charge of a herd.
The idea, however, was not shepherding per say, but the art of being entrusted with property, learning management and — most importantly — the development of individual responsibility.
Entrusting young individuals with significant responsibilities is a potent strategy for nurturing a sense of duty and is the greatest parental gift.
Take the following examples:
- A builder I know of assigned his 13-year-old son the task of supervising the construction of an apartment block.
- Consider allocating a portion of your income to your daughters, providing them an early opportunity to learn financial management for their household.
- Accompany your sons on shopping trips, guiding them to be discerning consumers, and allowing them to make mistakes, even if it results in them being occasionally overcharged or scammed.
All of these real-life experiences serve as invaluable lessons, shaping our children’s understanding of the world.
Today, many individuals delay marriage, even in the face of fitnah, citing an aversion to the responsibilities it entails. Who’s to blame for this mindset?
Often, the onus falls upon parents who, perhaps inadvertently, failed to instil both the sense and love of duty and responsibility in their children from a young age.
However, the most crucial aspect of fostering responsibility is to resist the urge to do everything for them. Overprotection and excessive intervention can stifle the growth of responsibility.
Perhaps, this is why we often observe the strongest sense of leadership among those who have experienced early independence, such as orphans. Their circumstances compel them to take charge.
Give tasks and give space to operate.
Centralise the Day of Judgment in your life
There is a profound difference between being familiar with the Day of Judgment, or believing in it and centralising it.
All Muslims do the former, but few succeed in achieving the latter.
Believing in it entails accepting its existence. Centralising it, however, occurs when the thought of that inevitable day constantly lingers in one’s mind, ever-present, from the break of dawn until the moment one rests, until it becomes the compass that navigates your everyday choices and actions.
- Embrace failure as a teacher, use such occasions to grow and learn.
- As a parent or guardian, trust your child when they take the initiative; do not punish them when they make mistakes.
- Surround yourself with people who help you shape the right sense of responsibility and purpose.